Saturday, July 21, 2012

But the map said there was a road

Nancy and I went on a great ride today from Montpelier up through Elmore on to some wild territory that was not what we had planned on, but enjoyed a lot (once we got through).

Rt. 12 heading north from Montpelier was really nice as the elevation rises and the forest becomes more and more pine and the houses and cars drift off behind. Another couple on bikes passed us and then bounced ahead and back for the better part of the ride up to Elmore. 

Just before Elmore we took a right onto a dirt road and headed into less familiar, but interesting, roads. Within a mile of leaving rt. 12 I had mis-directed us and it wasn't until a couple miles later that we realized the mistake. Nancy had wisely brought along the necessary pages from a Vermont Gazetteer map book and we were able to deduce pretty quickly that the road we were on would take us through to where we had planned to go anyway, so we forged ahead. 

What we didn't really consider was the legend. In fact we didn't have it with us, but casually assumed that since the "road" was a continuous double-dashed line we'd be good. Within in mile or so, the travelled dirt road ended and we passed a sign saying "bridge out-not for travel" or something to that effect. I thought if anything this was enticing, since we might have to portage a bit. 

Quickly the way turned to very rough washed out road that required mountain bike handling (up off the seat, bouncy leg position, heavy on the rear brake) going down some really steep and ragged path. It was really fun and great to be riding out in the woods. It was sort of like going on a hike, but on bikes. 

Like any dubious adventure, there comes a point where you realize you've got yourself pretty far into something that then starts to maybe seem a little uncertain. We eventually went over a little bridge, looked at the map, and assured ourselves that we knew where we were.  The route we were travelling was a combo VAST (Vermont Association of Snow Travellers) trail, four-wheeler, and dirt bike trail. 

With lots of up, and lots of down we continued and eventually ended up on Woodbury Mountain Road (which was our original intended route) and felt some relief to be back on a regular dirt road. It should be noted that this road was still a class-four road and still part of the VAST network.  With the edge of anxiety diminished, we decided to travel this road south towards Maple Corner where we would take a rest and get some food and water. Looking more carefully at the map this time, we could see that what we were on was a double-dashed road, but would become a double-dash double-dot dot road. In other words, returning to similar trail conditions as before. We decided to go for it and really enjoyed the pleasure of being on a road with no traffic whatsoever and a good enough surface to make reasonable headway, all in the proverbial middle of nowhere. 

Of course the road did become a boulder/ditch/mud/gravel/sand/root path once again, but we knew we were headed in the right direction, so enjoyed the experience. In all honesty, my chief worry was imagining running into unfriendly people in such a remote and unfamiliar area. 

In due time we heard the rumble and strain of motor vehicles off in the distance. 

When we finally came upon the source, we were stunned to see not one, not two, not three, but six jacked up trucks with massive wheels slowly navigating the trail in an impressive caravan. I admit to feeling quite vulnerable as I saw this impressive fleet slowly bouncing, bumping and climbing it's way down towards us. 

Of course the folks were all good humored and we exchanged friendly hellos as they passed by one-by-one. 

We continued on our way, sometimes walking our bikes, sometimes riding.

Some time on another fleet of vehicles came through. This time they were older folks and all driving Jeeps, including a couple of vintage vehicles that were a joy to see in this environment. 

After nearly ten miles of challenging terrain we finally met County Road and congratulated each other for coming through quite a challenge. The rest of our ride back into town was pleasant and unremarkable. We had left for this ride expecting a reasonably straightforward excursion and ended up with a much longer and more adventurous experience than we had bargained for. 

We arrived back to our car in Montpelier with a nice note from my sister reminding us to feed their dog and wishing us a good ride.  Heading home we considered what lessons were to be learned from the day:
  • Bring a paper map
  • Check the type of road, not just that it exists 
  • Bring plenty of food and water

I observed to Nancy that had we known what we were going into we most likely wouldn't have done it and that would have been a shame, so its sort of a conundrum in that respect that better preparation might have negated the whole thing. 

I strongly resist the notion that bikes have to be either "mountain bikes" or "road bikes", believing the difference is really a false dichotomy. A bike can be exceedingly capable of excellent performance on both smooth paved roads and rough mountainous dirt paths. Today reaffirmed that with wide tires and wide gearing you can really go much further than current conventional wisdom would expect. 

(An interesting aside to our day: We had a chance encounter with fellow randonneur Greg, who I have met briefly at recent brevets and exchanged blog comments with over time. It was great to have a chance to chat and say hi in person.  Shortly before seeing Greg we had crossed paths with old acquaintances Jay and Dot who I worked with a few years ago at Yestermorrow. Jay is keeping a blog about his renovation project on their house in Philidelphia that I have been enjoying keeping up with. It occurred to us that in both cases our real-world connections with these folks are fueled and reinforced by our blogging activities.)

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Lets all say hooray for the 400k brevet!

Hours on a bike

At the 5:00am start getting ready. John is on the left. We ending up riding in reasonable proximity to each other throughout the ride. John finished an hour or so before me.

Riding with the lead pack as the sun comes up over the Winooski in Montpelier

This was my view for 22 hours

A mirror for cars entering near Springfield at the beginning of Parker Hill Road

Townshend--it is amazing to be in this region of the state and then back home in one day  by bike

Around 185 miles

Some of the loveliest scenery was the lakes in Plymouth at sunset

Done at 3:00am

Its well after midnight and I've been riding for perhaps 19 hours with roughly 30-40 miles left to go. I am doing my upmost to manage the insidious pain of saddle sores and rash. Frequently I call out  when I lift myself off the saddle to temporarily relieve the pain. It hurts to stand up, and it kills to sit back down, although I am able to situate myself periodically such that the pain fades to manageable for a while. Meanwhile, the butt pain is unconsciously urging me to put more of my body weight on my hands and I am experiencing zinging and pain in my left hand. Try as I may, there is no one position that provides relief for long and the option of dangling my hand only increases the pressure on my derriere. Never one to mind rough roads or bumpy pavement, every little irregularity is a potential source of jolting misery...

Okay, that's a dramatic way to start off this post, but the fact is it acurately describes the latter portions of my ride.

I am still recuperating from the 400k brevet that ran Saturday from Waterbury, Vermont down to Putney and back. In total it was a 258 mile ride completed in 22 hours Whew!

I can't say I'd describe it as fun, although I am grateful for the experience and am glad I did it. Unlike the last two rides this one was a challenge on a number of levels.

We started at 5:00am with about ten, maybe twelve riders and swiftly rode as a group through the cool morning air. It was a thrill to be in this group as our lights lit up the roadway as the day rapidly brightened. I enjoyed cruising along in the draft enjoying snippits of conversation and banter as we moved along. Riding with the lead group involves some calculation for me because it is a given that I am riding beyond my normal pace to stay with the lead riders. While I am benefiting from the drafting effects of the group, I know at some point I have to fall back and establish my own pace for the long haul. In retrospect, I think I got a little too caught up in the excitement of the fast travel and stuck with the lead riders a little too long. I finally dropped back on the climb up to Barnard and it felt good to settle into my own pace, but even at this point I was starting to feel a lackluster sense of energy that stayed with me for the rest of the daylight hours.

I don't know if it was the heat (temps in the nineties) or early over-exertion, but I felt like I was working without the standard strength that I'd felt on previous rides.  Rests and food helped for a while, but the feeling of fatigue stayed with me pretty much throughout the day. I was able to keep riding and making progress, just not with the alacrity that I've come to expect--this was not problematic, but it did contrast with other rides where my overall disposition has remained steady and good throughout.

My initial goal was to get to Putney -- roughly halfway through the ride. I think I got there around 2:00pm and Mike had a nice assortment of cold drinks, sandwiches, and other snacks. In addition, there was an outdoor shower available which I took advantage of. I left the Putney stop at the West Hill Shop feeling as refreshed I could hope and headed out for the return leg of the journey.

It was great to be traveling through parts of the state I knew from years past and onto areas I'd never passed through before. I continued moving through town by town and slowly progressed throughout the rest of the afternoon and into the early evening. I stopped in Grafton for some soup and an overall reset. I was able to check-in with Nancy and got ready for the quieter and eventually darker portion of the trip. Soon after leaving Grafton I started to feel significantly better in terms of energy. In retrospect, I feel reasonably this was because the day was cooling down. I felt fresh for the first time since the morning hours.

Friends who have done rides of this durration have said that the real challenges are more mental then physical and I think I gained a sense of that this time around. Especially durring the third quarter of the trip I found myself continually calculating my progress in miles to go and estimated time I'd arrive which frequently left me feeling slightly defeated by the sheer magnamity of the miles left to go. I knew that once I'd passed Killington and began my journey up the valley through the Green Mountains I'd feel like I'd turned a corner and would beging to be able to envision the end. The hard thing is it just takes so long for these transitions to materialize. But materialize they do, and progress happens.

It was noteable how freed I felt by the darkness coming on; I could no longer glance at the route sheet and odometer and obsess about my milage. Also as it got dark I was getting closer to roads that I had ridden in the past and thus was less obliged to need the cue sheet for navigation. Once I reached Pittsfield I knew the route home exactly.

Although the saddle pain had been with me for hours already,  I recall it most accutely from Pittsfield to the end, a distance of some fifty odd miles. I had all the strength I needed; my legs just kept doing their thing without any persuasion from me, but the sores were what I struggled with while the zinging in my hand became more and more problematic. The closer I got, the more determined I was. When I finally entered the Mad River Valley I knew there was no chance of not completing the ride.

I finished at 3:00am, twenty-two hours after I started.

Driving home I saw the light of sunrise coming over the hills and I realized that I had been awake for 24 hours. Getting home never felt so good.

On my last two brevets I had the pleasure of riding with other riders who I teamed up with along the way. Unfortunately this didn't happen on this ride. It feels good to be in the company of others for such long periods of time and there is a little bit of security in having another human around should something serious go wrong. After I dropped back from the lead group in the morning I rode briefly with a fellow from Providence, but I could sense his strength while I was having to acknowledge my aforementioned fatigue. I let him drift ahead south of Woodstock and rode on my own from there, although I saw his bike and another parked outside a store a few hours later. Just as I was arriving in Putney, I cross paths with John, who I'd enjoyed riding with in the morning. He said he'd be interested in riding together, but he was just leaving the control as I was getting in, so we agreed maybe we'd meet at the next control in Townsend. We never saw each other again, but as it turns out, he finished roughly a half hour ahead of me, so it is unfortunate that we couldn't have met up.

A couple of highlights include traveling up Route 100 past the lakes in the Plymouth Notch region- everything was draped in the sublime beauty of evening light; the waxing moon was a friendly companion as well; and an offer of food at Green Mountain Bikes was a touching gesture in the wee hours of the morning.

I think its worth saying too that my bike was solid throughout, with one exception, mentioned below. The reliability of the bicycle is significant: having to deal with a mechanical issue in the after countless hours of riding, perhaps in the dark, maybe in the rain, would be mentally quite challenging. Patience and clear thinking is not automatic under these conditions. The one mechanical issue I ran into was a broken wire to my rear light. This was in Ludlow and it had just started raining ever-so-slightly and I stopped for a piece of pizza. Under an overhang I was able to take a careful look and realized pretty quickly that somehow one of the wires had broken right at the rear lamp. I was able to strip a bit of wire and fix it to the metal connector and it held for the rest of the ride.

Looking forward I feel like I have a couple of significant challenges to solve should I want to try to ride the 600k in August or another long ride like this, namely saddle sores and hand pain. I suspect that solving the saddle issues will greatly reduce the likelihood of the hand problems, but I'm not certain about that. Many folks use various butt lubricants and I think I might need to just assume that I'm going to have problems if I don't use something. I'll just lube up from the get go and hope that solves the problem. Its possible maybe my saddle is starting to give out after ten or eleven years of good use, or my positioning could use tweaking.

Will I ride the 600k? I'm not committed either way. This experience put a bit of a damper on my eagerness to "try out the next one" quite as readily as I had with the 200 and 300k events. On the other hand, if I can manage the pain issues, I'd be pretty compelled to experience the 600k, which would almost certainly have to include some sleep.

We'll see.